Hundreds attend vigil after reported hate crime

2012-07-22T21:05:00Z 2012-08-21T15:58:11Z Hundreds attend vigil after reported hate crimeBy FAIZ SIDDIQUI and ZACH PLUHACEK / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Hundreds of people gathered with rainbow flags and candles outside the Capitol for a nighttime vigil sparked by a woman's account of a violent, hate-fueled attack that spread rapidly over the Internet on Sunday.

The woman said she was attacked early that morning by three masked men who barged into her house, bound her wrists and ankles with zip ties, cut her all over her body and carved homophobic slurs into her skin before dumping gasoline on her floor and lighting it with a match, said a friend who spoke to the Journal Star.

The friend said the woman crawled from her house, naked and bleeding and screaming for help before reaching the doorstep of a neighbor's home.

Late Sunday, police said they still were investigating the case and had yet to release an account of what they believe happened inside the home.

Lincoln Police Capt. Joe Wright said officers were called to 22nd and E streets on a report of a fire and found the woman across the street from her house. They were told she had been assaulted by more than one suspect, who then started the house on fire, he said.

City fire Inspector Damon Robbins said a match flame ignited vapors from a pool of gasoline on the woman's floor, but the flash fire did not continue to burn and caused no noticeable damage to the house.

Police Chief Jim Peschong declined to comment further on the status of the investigation or its findings. No arrests had been made as of late Sunday.

The woman's account of the attack drew outrage from a gay and straight-allied community already galvanized by this month's Star City Pride Festival as well as debate over the city's so-called fairness amendment, a proposal to ban discrimination in housing and employment based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

The City Council approved the measure, but petition gatherers recently obtained enough signatures to put the measure up for a public vote. The earliest the amendment will appear on the ballot is November.

An hour before Sunday's crowd gathered at the Capitol, a Facebook event for the vigil had been shared with almost 10,000 people, with 775 saying they planned to attend -- either in person or in spirit.

Tyler Richard, president of Outlinc, a group that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Lincoln, estimated the physical turnout to be about 300 people by 9 p.m.

The crowd spilled into 14th Street from the west stairs and sidewalk of the Capitol. Police forced attendees onto the Capitol lawn to make room for passing vehicles.

Karen Bratton-Cranford, president of the LGBT advocate group Star City Pride, took the microphone to urge those gathered to act with respect and to refrain from seeking revenge. 

“Don’t go out and act on your own,” she said. “Don’t give them the power to control your actions."

Richard expressed confidence Sunday night that the police would handle the case with diligence and with respect to those involved. They had a history of doing so, he said.

“I have a lot of faith in our police department,” he said. “We have a long history of support within our community.

"We are shocked and saddened by the report of an alleged hate crime involving a member of the LGBT community early Sunday morning," he said in an earlier news release.

"Our hearts go out to the victim, her family and close friends. Many in our community are understandably experiencing a great deal of sadness, anger and confusion. We look to our entire community to pull together in this difficult time."

Reach Faiz Siddiqui at 402-473-7239 or fsiddiqui@journalstar.com. Reach Zach Pluhacek at 402-473-7234 or zpluhacek@journalstar.com.

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